It was early in the spring of the second year of his insurrection against the High Sheriff of Nottingham that Robin Hood took a walk in Sherwood Forest. As he walked, he pondered the progress of the campaign, the disposition of his forces, his opposition’s moves, and the options that confronted him.
The revolt against the sheriff began as a personal crusade. It erupted out of Robin’s own conflict with the sheriff and his administration. Alone, however, Robin could accomplish little. He therefore sought allies, men with personal grievances and a deep sense of justice. Later he took all who came without asking too many questions. Strength, he believed, lay in numbers.
The first year was spent in forging the group into a disciplined band—a group united in enmity against the sheriff, willing to live outside the law as long as it took to accomplish their goals. The band was simply organized. Robin ruled supreme, making all important decisions. Specific tasks were delegated to his lieutenants. Will Scarlett was in charge of intelligence and scouting. His main job was to keep tabs on the movements of the sheriff’s men. He also collected information on the travel plans of rich merchants and abbots. Little John kept discipline among the men, and he saw to it that their archery was at the high peak that their profession demanded. Scarlett took care of the finances, paying shares of the take, bribing officials, converting loot to cash, and finding suitable hiding places for surplus gains. Finally, Much the Miller’s Son had the difficult task of provisioning the ever-increasing band.
The increasing size of the band was a source of satisfaction for Robin, but also a subject of much concern. The fame of his Merry Men was spreading, and new recruits were pouring in. Yet the number of men was beginning to exceed the food capacity of the forest. Game was becoming scarce, and food had to be transported by cart from outlying villages. The band had always camped together. But now what had been a small gathering had become a major encampment that could be detected miles away. Discipline was also becoming harder to enforce. “Why?” Robin reflected. “I don’t know half the men I run into these days.”
Although the band was getting larger, their main source of revenue was in decline. Travelers, especially the richer variety, began giving the forest a wide berth. This was costly and inconvenient to them, but it was preferable to having all their goods confiscated by Robin’s men. Robin was therefore considering changing his past policy to one of a fixed transit tax.
The idea was strongly resisted by his lieutenants who were proud of the Merry Men’s famous motto: “Rob from the rich and give to the poor.” The poor and the townspeople, they argued, were their main source of support and information. If they were antagonized by transit taxes, they would abandon the Merry Men to the mercy of the sheriff.
Robin wondered how long they could go on keeping to the ways and methods of their early days. The sheriff was growing stronger. He had them. Robin felt that he must bring the campaign to a conclusion. The question was, How could this be achieved?
Robin knew that the chances of killing or capturing the sheriff were remote. Besides, killing the sheriff might satisfy his personal thirst for revenge but would not change the basic problem. It was also unlikely that the sheriff would be removed from office. He had powerful friends at court. On the other hand, Robin reflected, if the district was in a perpetual state of unrest, and the taxes went uncollected, the sheriff would fall out of favor. But on further thought, Robin reasoned, the sheriff might shrewdly use the unrest to obtain more reinforcements. The outcome depended on the mood of the regent Prince John. The Prince was known as vicious, volatile, and unpredictable. He was obsessed by his unpopularity among the people, who wanted the imprisoned King Richard back. He also lived in constant fear of the barons who were growing daily more hostile to his power. Several of these barons had set out to collect the ransom that would release King Richard the Lionheart from his jail in Austria. Robin had been discreetly asked to join, in return for future amnesty. It was a dangerous proposition. Provincial banditry was one thing, court intrigue another. Prince John was known for his vindictiveness. If the gamble failed he would personally see to it that all involved were crushed.
The sound of the supper horn startled Robin from his thoughts. There was the smell of roasting venison in the air. Nothing had been resolved or settled. Robin headed for camp promising himself that he would give these problems first priority after tomorrow’s operatio
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